Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Enchantress of Florence

Salman Rushdie is the greatest writer of our time. This statement was easier to defend after his masterpiece, Midnight’s Children, was made a Booker among Bookers, and before the steaming pile of shit, Shalimar the Clown, made the rounds (at least the title sounded good, even if reading the thing felt like getting a wedgie), but it is true, all the same, whether you like him or not. And let’s be clear: he is the world’s most unlikable man. Four women have divorced him, the ayatollah wants him dead, and no one who has ever invited him to a dinner party has asked him back. But none of that has anything to do with writing, because you don’t read a book out of awe and respect for the author’s life-long marriage. You read to read, and Rushdie writes to write.

This time, Rushdie’s mix of magical and real involves a mind meld between the Mughals of Hindoostan and the Machiavellis and Medicis of medieval Italy. Yes, this puts the work in the category of historical fiction, and it includes a bibliography that reveals, I suspect, his new alliance with Emory, where more than a few English grad students are clamoring for an opportunity to map the line between Rushdie’s magic and the real. But ignore that. There’s a story to tell.

A young man lost in the world, with great talents and charms, not all of them legal, seeks to tell the fairy tale of his origins to the Mughal Emperor. He is descended, it would seem, from an offshoot of the line of Amerigo Vespucci untouched by the famous cousin’s wanderlust, for whom Niccolo Machiavelli, a failed Florentine politician, was a matchmaker when their friend, Arcalia, or Argalia, a great warrior who carried enchanted weapons and in whose retinue four Swedish giants traveled, died defending his true love, an enchantingly beautiful woman from the Mughal Court.

Of course, a no-account wanderer cannot walk into the Mughal Emperor’s palace and announce himself, so there is a story to be told just to bring the man to The Man. Like Satanic Verses, which includes a brothel in the image of the prophet’s harem, this man’s journey, supposedly enchanted by his mother, needs a whore’s blessing to safely enter the throne room. His prostitute protectress is something else herself:

She was so thin that her name among the other whores was Skeleton, and those clients who could afford it often hired her together with her antithesis, the obese whore called Mattress, in order to enjoy the two extremes of what the female form had to offer, first the unyielding dominance of bone and then the flesh that engulfed. The Skeleton ate like a wolf, greedily and fast, and the more she ate the fatter Mattress became, until it was suspected that the two whores had made a pact with the Devil, and in Hell it would be Skeleton who was grotesquely overweight for all eternity while Mattress rattled bonily around with the nipples on her flat chest looking like little wooden plugs.
The imperial city, in those days, was swarming with “poets and artists, those preening egoists who claimed for themselves the power of language and image to conjure beautiful somethings from empty nothings, and yet neither poet nor painter, musician nor sculptor had come close to what the emperor, the Perfect Man, had achieved,” for you see, he had willed the woman of his dreams to life and she now walked the halls of his palace as his favorite queen. And so it was not altogether surprising that this emperor, an artist among artists, was rapt by the wayfaring stranger’s tale. Of course, the outsider who becomes an insider incites jealousy and even treason, described here in pre-school rhymes, among the courtiers and courtesans, and ultimately, for political reasons, of course, the emperor cannot believe the stranger’s tale.

No, we didn’t just give away the ending—there is more—but yes, the entire plot could be summed up in just a few grafs. In fact, the plot itself isn’t exactly a page turner. The real show is the language, the story telling, and that is what keeps you coming back. If we call it literary porn, you will understand that this is not an insult.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

World's Most Likeable Song

The Most Wanted Song--designed from a web survey so that 12% of people will instantly like it. Also a track that fewer than 200 people on earth are estimated to like. Thanks Samuel!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hi-Res Wallpapers/Desktop Pics

At InterfaceLIFT. Some very good photography there.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Slainte was (is?) a phenomenal Celtic band from the late 90s, whose heyday was on the original, where they were essentially international best-sellers, with over a million downloads. Our college roommates are probably still annoyed we played them so much. Their 2 full albums, Slainte and Cup of Tea, are available for free download at

To pronounce the Celtic toast "Slainte," say, "It's a lawn chair," and you'll be close. Ironically, this works better after a few pints.

Funniest Book Review Ever

On The Bush Boom, Alice writes:

Finally! A book that proves the existence of an alternate universe. Obviously, a rip in the space/time continuum between this universe and the other universe where Bush is presiding over a 'boom economy opened up and this book fell through. Can there be ANY other explanation?
Wow. Just wow. via Big Picture.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What's the word?

The last event in Pope Benedict's itinerary for his US visit:

Sunday, April 20, 8 p.m.
Shepherd One lifts off from John F. Kennedy airport in the Brooklyn Diocese, heading east to the Eternal City.
Who talks like that?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Another Aggregator Mainly to find new blogs--news aggregators = info overload.

Be a Little Greener

We're highly skeptical of "green" products. Most have some hidden downside for the environment. (Slate covers this well in Green Lantern and Green Room.) Many do not have the quality we'd like--maybe their producers think the "green" cachet will compensate for poor performance. Nearly all cost more at the point of purchase, and although we'd love to rationalize spending more money up front by thinking it makes the world a little greener for our kids, the budget is tight now.

Seventh Generation gets props for dish soap that works and costs no more than petrochemical soap. The company web site offers coupons and proselytizes cheerfully. Be careful, though: their dish washer detergents, both gel and powder, are worthless. Pls leave recs for dish washer detergent and/or feedback on other Seventh Generation products in comments.

The Way Home from Iraq

Everyone should read this: The Things That Carried Him. And then read it again, 4035 times.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spectrum Arts Festival

Spectrum Arts. Brought to you by BU, of all people.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Wal*Mart Candidate

Wal*Mart makes a handshake contract with some guy to record video of corporate meetings. 20 years later, Wal*Mart director Hillary Clinton praises the company's efforts [to eradicate small businesses and run Mom and Pop out of town while turning most of middle America into a parking lot]. 30 years later, deal with the guy goes bad and corporate videos leak onto the web. Also, Hillary Clinton is running for president. Talk about your chickens coming home to roost.

Best Dustjacket Ever

Jordan Crane's four-layer creation for Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends. via BoingBoing.

Egalitarianism in the Early Days of the Web

was an artifact of the lack of organization on the Internet in the late 90s and early 00s. And it tricked webheads into thinking that the Internet was some kind of egalitarian utopia. Now that organization has come to the web, so has The Man. From the dustjacket of Access Denied:

The Web provides everybody with access to information. That makes those in power nervous. Transparency is the best defense against further narrowing of information access and the starting point for rolling back existing barriers. Access Denied provides the definitive analysis of government justifications for denying their own people access to some information and also documents global Internet filtering practices on a country-by-country basis. This is timely and important.

--Jonathan Aronson, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Easy File Conversion

Dorky, but it scratches what itches: Zamzar. What it does is this: You send it a file. It sends your file back in any format you want. Lets you turn that weird guy's Word Perfect into Word files, etc. Also does every audio and image format we've heard of. Way more flexible than Adobe's pdf to text service. via Cool Tools.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

W. on the Big Screen

Oliver Stone's biopic of W's life leaked the other day. Slate has highlights from the screenplay.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Jhumpa Lahiri: Unaccustomed Earth

Jhumpa Lahiri is one hot writer. Her new collection of short stories--her stories have been consistently better than that novel was--went on sale last week.

PS: Brookline Booksmith: We missed her talk at The Coolidge because you did such a poor job advertising it and then, when we stop by your place this weekend, you have piles of her book but not one signed copy? We can think of two things you could do to turn around your failing little store right there.

We Want One, Too!

From Cult of Mac: a Mac Tablet.

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare 10p?

The new British coins, designed by a 26 year old by breaking up the image of the Royal Arms of England--very cool. Compare with the new $5 bill, which pushes the familiar greenback imagery aside to make room for a big purple 5--very dumb.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Why We De-regulated the Banks in the First Place

From Andrew Leonard's archives at How the World Works:

The next time we have a Black Monday... Congress can stand around and wring its hands and give speeches about how awful it is that these bankers violated the spirit of the law, but once again, the money will be gone, the bill will have come due, and taxpayers will again be required to cough it up.
--Stephen Pizzo, in 1995. Why, it is like he saw the future!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Apple's 32nd Anniversary

April Fools' is also Apple Day. We were Mac kids before it was cool, and as soon as we're grown up, it'll be an iMac on the desk and a MacBook on the road for us. Nice roundup of Apple's high points at Ars, and for those who remember pre-OS X Macs, here's a shout-out to Clarus the Dogcow. Moof!