The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

Filmmaker Virgil Widrich (Wikipedia, IMDB) writes:

Just wanted to let you know that I wrote a feature film with Tinderbox. 5 years, 1000 pages. Then it came down to 100 pages in the final version….. It is quite a hyperlinked story.

The film, Night Of 1000 Hours, will have its US Premiere on October 21 at the Chicago Film Festival.

Tinderbox At The Movies

Interesting interview, too.

The research was absolutely endless, because we needed iconic images which audiences could immediately classify according to period. With the help of a computer program I drew up a family tree containing 400 members of the family. All of them, even if they were just extras or weren't even visible at any point, had a name and dates of birth and death, so we could also work out the style of clothing they would have worn when they died.
Oct 16 12 2016


by Ottessa Moshfegh

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this novel takes a long time to get going and, when it finally does move beyond exposition, it heads for places that are neither pleasant nor surprising.

Eileen is twenty four, she lives in a depressing small town in central Massachusetts with her father. He’s an alcoholic ex-cop, and Eileen she does clerical work in a private reformatory. The prose is solid and unshowy. So is Eileen, when she’s not enacting perversity.

I’d always believed that my first time would be by force, Of course I hoped to be raped by only the most soulful, gentle, ­handsome of men, somebody who was secretly in love with me–Randy, ideally.

I suppose one’s reaction to the novel depends on whether you regard Eileen’s attitude as charming or simply dense. I’d have bailed on this book without the prize nomination, and I’d have bailed again if not for the terrific reviews. I think the book and I got off on the wrong foot.

Oct 16 4 2016


It’s important to follow through and to play hard through the whole game, but right now it looks like we’re going to win. Perhaps the United States won’t be governed by a narcissist brigand after all.

Can we take a moment to think about what comes next?

  1. ImWithKer. Josh Marshall started a movement to take back our symbols from our new Nazis. Pepe the Frog is the mascot of the racist alt-right, but we have had a better frog all along: we have Kermit, the canonical pluralism frog.
His character embodies the generosity of spirit, perseverance, collegiality, and openness to introspection and melancholy that are ingredients of any open, free society whereas Pepe embodies the sadism, cruelty, and the lust for domination … that are the makings of autocracy, dehumanization and finally the love of death.

Besides, Kermit is able to talk openly and honestly about race in America. It’s not easy being green.

We’ve got to get out of this place. Trump has already done immense damage to the country. Racism and anti-Semitism are out of the box again. Any black teenager who is pulled over for a traffic stop must be painfully aware that his life may be over. Quietly protesting the National Anthem is as controversial again as it was when we did it in 1968, and again the loons want us to love it or leave it. Twitter is filled with anti-Semites, the right-wing loons now run Wikipedia, right-wing nationalists are resurgent in Germany, Greece, France, the UK, Poland, Hungary, and Russia. I’m not alone in being shocked by the anti-Semites whom Trump has brought out into the open: a common theme of my Twitter feed is people who, for the first time, feel unsafe in the US.

The pardon. One of the worst ideas of the Trump campaign is “Lock her up!”, the stupid chant that calls for the conversion of the United States into a police dictatorship where political rivals are incarcerated or killed. Yet, Trump himself is in a good deal of legal jeopardy: charges of tax evasion, mail fraud, securities fraud, and espionage are all entirely plausible.

I think Ford’s pardon of Nixon was a mistake, but under the circumstances I’m not sure that a long series of prosecutions of a former Republican nominee will be good for the country. It’s possible that a plea bargain or just a preemptive pardon would avoid establishing the expectation that losers will be prosecuted. (Our founders knew their Roman history and did their best to avoid this scenario, one that – Aaron Burr excepted – is completely unprecedented.)

The punishment. After this trouncing, of course, Trump’s political career will be over. What are we going to do about his alt-right loons and goons? And what are we to do about the ruthless Republicans who supported Trump as if he were perfectly normal?

  • Politicians and pundits who openly endorsed Trump should be disqualified for twenty years. If they do write or run for office, they should receive laughter and scorn. I’d like to say “forever,” but that’s too harsh on younger politicians. Casual sympathizers can be excused more easily, but those whose business it was to know better, and who ignored their conscience, should not be trusted with public office or employment.
  • Those who supported and encouraged the racism and anti-Semitism of the Trump campaign should be disqualified, period. We’re beyond having a conversation. Polite reminders that civility is a good thing aren't enough. We’ve come too close this time, and too much is at stake. Next time, it’s going to be fire: let’s make sure there is no next time.
  • Institutions that have profited from recruiting and cosseting Nazis to sell ads (Reddit, 4chan, 8chan) or to exploit their traffic to solicit donations and seek grants (Wikipedia) must be forced to end their profiteering. Ending irresponsible editing is one solution: people should take responsibility for what they say. Strict liability for hate crimes might do the trick: if a site harbors an anonymous forum that plans and carries out political violence, the site should be liable for the crimes who perpetrators is protects. Other legislative and regulatory actions might work. It has to be stopped.
Oct 16 1 2016

Yes, Please!

by Amy Poehler

An amusing memoir by a still-young comic. “Yes, please!” is her recommended answer to just about everything, and she is not wrong. Some of this book is pep talk for the not-quite-young, assurance that forty isn’t the end of the world or even the end of sex. A lot of it is worrying about work and kids. None of this is exceptional, though if you like Poehler it may sound better coming from her. The account of trying to get by as a scrounging actor in a pick-up Chicago improv company, on the other hand, is terrific and it’s something you can’t find everywhere. It’s a hard slog, learning to be funny.

by Anita Shreve

This intriguing novel explores the aftermath of a tragic plane crash from the point of view of the pilot’s wife. We never really know anyone, but Kathryn Lyons really didn’t know her husband, Jack. This is not a dramatic book and it’s not as formally interesting as the author’s Testimony, but it’s certainly well executed.

(I found this at Big Chicken Barn Books on the way to Hypertext 16. It sure is a big chicken barn!)

by Dorothy L. Sayers

Though it is a complex golden-age mystery that features Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey, this is still not one of Dorothy Sayers’ best efforts. Early Sayers relied on cardboard for her minor characters and that shows prominently here. Jews are particularly troublesome for Sayers, who couldn’t stay away even if her Jewish characters always give her trouble. The two gigolos, the floozie and the the conductor who are at the center of this mystery are purely stock. She spends a lot of work on timetables and misleading clues, and not nearly enough work letting the people be people.

It’s too bad. By the time she got where she was going – tentatively in Nine Tailors and then splendidly in Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon, she was nearly finished with mysteries.

by Douglas Kennedy

An intriguing story of being down and out in the Paris of outsiders. Harry Ricks is a mess. His marriage has collapsed, the student he was sleeping with has killed herself, his dean (who was sleeping with his wife) has fired him after making sure that the press knows every sordid detail. His daughter doesn’t want to talk to him, and Harry can’t entirely blame her. He takes off for Paris with his last $4000 in order to write a novel. He gets sick. People are horrid. The novel goes nowhere.

Then Harry meets a woman who lives in the nearby 5e arrondissement, and things go seriously wrong.

Sep 16 20 2016

Wacky Wiki

I think we’ve got to start a discussion of whether Wikipedia is serving as a recruiting ground for anti-Semitic and racist extremists emboldened by the Trump campaign. We’re seeing ongoing efforts, for example, to pretend that Pepe The Frog is just a cute cartoon – just like those guys in white hoods are just having fun. We‘re also seeing a concerted effort to pretend that Gamergate harassers have nothing to do with Gamergate itself, that they’re just outside agitators.

I suspect all this is meant not to change the encyclopedia but to advertise the Reddit and *chan forums where the real anti-Semitic and racist bilge gets peddled. An earlier tactic was to deny that Gamergate’s rape threats were really rape threats, and to argue ad nauseam that the victims were simply over-reacting sissie girls. And blood was probably coming out of them.

Wikipedia itself thinks that this embrace of racism and sexual harassment is just fine, since it boosts the number of “highly engaged editors” and increases site traffic.

Katherine Clark (D-MA5) has some legislative proposals. They’re not nearly enough, but it’s a start.

by John Golding

During the chaos that followed hard upon the Brexit referendum, I realized that I know next to nothing about the modern Labour Party, how it works and how it is connected to he party of Victorian radicalism. I asked Twitter for a modern history of Labour and got this – a fascinating book, though not at all the book I was looking for. Golding was a combatant in the transition that led Labour out of the swamps that gave Britain a generation of Thatcher, a pro-union MP who was bitterly opposed to old Labour’s socialist programme.

One difficulty here is that Golding assumes the reader knows how everything works and who everyone was – not only the leading politicians but also the insiders who run the party. That’s a high standard for a first encounter with a foreign system. Golding loves acronyms too, and again assumes that the reader knows which committees do which things and wield which powers in fact as we as theory. I did enjoy learning about Annie’s Bar, a bar near an ancient inscription that read Anno Domini that for years served as a neutral ground where members of parliament and reporters could talk off the record.

by Richard Davenport-Hines and Adam Sisman, eds.

A strong collection of fascinating and very readable letters by a prominent postwar historian. Trevor-Roper played academic politics for keeps and liked a good bit of gossip as much as the next fellow. He explains, for example, that our understanding of Cretan civilization stems from the accident of Sir Arthur Evans having been discovered on an park bench in Oxford in a compromising position with an attractive boy. The letters that surround Trevor-Roper’s endorsement of the spurious Hitler Diaries, and his prompt recognition that he was wrong, are particularly evocative.

In a surprising development, I have been informed by Wikipedia’s oversight team that they no longer object to one of Gamergate’s favorite harassment tactics: suggesting (without evidence) that reports of sexual harassment has been faked, that police reports are fraudulent or non-existent, and that victims may therefore have committed fraud and perjury when reporting harassment. No source is required, for example, to insert “allegedly” against any complaint that victims have made or will make in the future. However widely reported the harassment may have been, Gamergate editors are free to suggest it’s just a silly or hysterically woman carrying on.

This new policy encourages “gas lighting” and discourages any attempt to report harassment; indeed, it magnifies the risk of objecting to Wikipedia harassment. As you would expect, the Gamergate boards are delighted, and even those Gamergaters who dislike harassment tactics now admit that they have been singularly effective.

Wikipedia’s oversight team did not respond to a request for comment.

by Adrian Goldsworthy

An entertaining but scholarly reconstruction of life in the British infantry in the final years of the Napoleonic wars, commencing with the soldiers who are quartered near the town of Meryton, which you will recalls is situated at the edge of Pride and Prejudice. Indeed, Wickham makes an appearance, which (as you would expect) causes no end of trouble to all in the vicinity. Colonel Fitzwilliam means well and works hard, but again is out of his depth. So, for that matter, is Arthur Wellesley, a moderately obscure general who, for a few precious days, has an army of his own. It’s an opportunity.

Saturday morning, I saw a clever Twitter posting cross my “politics” timeline. I tweeted it to my followers, so they’d see the image.

Actual Doonesbury cartoon from 1999.

Doonesbury Truthers

It seems to have been the right thing at the right time, as it’s been liked and retweeted thousands and thousands of times.

What really surprised me, though, we the brigade of right-wing Doonesbury Truthers who descended on my to prove that this was obviously a forgery, concocted by evil liberals. The wrong panel is signed! The colors are wrong! The web site’s been hacked! All the web sites have been hacked! Before I blocked them, I was having to explain to these folks (some of whom, to be fair, probably live outside Moscow in their mother’s basement and so don’t remember reading the comics in 1999) that millions and millions of people know these aren’t forgeries because they remember reading newspapers.

I pointed to the Amazon listing for the collected Doonesbury; they didn’t believe it. I argued that they could go down to their public library and read the newspaper themselves, forgetting that these people were likely living somewhere in Eastern Europe where American newspaper archives are a little bit less accessible than in, say, Peoria.

Still, my guess is that they weren’t all Russian, which means we have a lot of wingnuts who are so eager to find the next Dan Rather that they won’t even believe that stuff they can see in their bookstore actually exists.

by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbot’s Dare Me is a mystery about frightening young female athletes who have no fear of adults, and don’t even think much about them. You Will Know Me turns this around: it’s a mystery about the parents of acrobats – especially of one girl who, in a few years, may have a shot at the Olympics. All the parents love their kids fiercely, and all work hard not to neglect their other children despite the long hours and financial requirements that the sport demands. Though the parents become focused on and consumed by the demands of the sport, they cannot fathom the concentration, the dedication, the passion required to perform these acrobatics. The love the kids, but they cannot imagine who they have become.

Wikipedia has read me out of meeting because I restored the following passage that an anonymous troll had blanked in Wikipedia’s article about an Alt-Right chat board. These Internet sites became a focus of international attention last July, after Donald Trump tweeted an image of Hilary Clinton, a Star of David, and a sea of dollar bills that he had seen on a white-supremacist board. The passage I restored read as follows:

Anti-Semitism and White Nationalism

In July of 2016, US presidential candidate [[Donald Trump]] tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton with a background of money and a six pointed star, seen by some as resembling the Star of David containing the message "Most corrupt candidate ever". The image had originally been posted to 8chan's /pol/ board. The New York Times called 8chan a "website for the 'alt right,' an internet-based movement associated with white nationalism." [1] [2]

Scrubbing even this timid and tentative report from Wikipedia is Orwellian.

I no longer support the project to which I have given so much time, but I do occasionally glance at selected pages for two reasons. The first is safety. For example, one of my former Wikipedia opponents was recently detained and held without bail. (He’s out now, and on Twitter he’s talking about the “Jewish overlords” who run Broadway. Great.)

The second reason is to assist people seeking legislative and regulatory solutions to the menace that Wikipedia has become. A solution must be found for Wikipedia’s promotion of harassment – especially of women and Jews – and for its encouragement of extortion.

Still, as I pass through those dusty corridors, it seems churlish to simply ignore typos, vandalism, and other rubbish that can easily be fixed. They don’t want me to edit Gamergate; apparently, that extends to the entirety of the alt-right takeover of the Republican Party and, if they have their way, our country.

Last month, I asked for help finding a site that could answer the question, “What do normal people call this thing in my front yard that I call Tall Pricklyweed?”

A biologist writes to say that there’s a technical term that biologists use to refer to these plants I dismiss as weeds, and that term is ‘wildflower.’”

And, second, the best place to get help identifying them is iNaturalist.

by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, eds.

A stack of modern Sherlock Holmes stories, ranging widely from tribute and emulation to some striking reinterpretations. Critic Michael Dirda dips his toe in fiction, for example, in a striking literary luncheon where we learn that Arthur Conan Doyle was actually The Strand’s house name, and all his works were farmed out to other hands. And that’s not all…

by Megan Abbott

This tensely-plotted mystery about high school cheerleaders is a study in the ferocity of young women. Where You Will Know Me, a mystery about serious acrobats who are opaque to their parents, is chiefly about grownups, Dare Me is about girls Here, parents are remote logistical worries whom we seldom see and who are scarcely worth a passing thought. As for boys, well, they might be fun to play with for a night or so, but these girls deeply don’t care.

The narrator, Addy, is a fascinating choice: she’s is and has always been the lieutenant of the top girl and squad captain, the enforcer. Addy is always thinking about (and fearing) Beth: Addy doesn’t really like hurting people, it just goes with the job and in any case Beth cannot be resisted. Or, Addy can’t resist her. On rare occasions, though, as when the new Coach is pondering who will be the star flyer in some new stunt, Addy lets a small, nine-year old voice in her head whine “Me! Me! Let it be me this once!”