Never mind the lack of clean drinking water; you’re liberated!

According to the L.A. Times, the U.S. military secretly pays the Iraqi press to run stories written by American troops that put a positive spin on the U.S. mission in Iraq.

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.

Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said.

Maybe that’s what Judith Miller meant when she said she’d “already received several offers ‘of all kinds‘ for employment.”

The green fairy

For our anniversary, Max has arranged to encourage my degeneracy. You’ve gotta love a man who gives you exactly what you want — and throws in some magic spray (inspired by these pills?).

Sporadic posting will continue, and not just because of the controlled substances. Work is busy; about forty-seven friends are Sagittarians celebrating birthdays; and I agreed months ago to participate in several events that all seem to be happening in the next week.

Lately, though, all I’ve wanted to do is work on my novel. I spent Sunday afternoon studying up on charismatic Christianity with some audio research. (Ahhh, memories.)

Crews adaptation selected for Sundance

The Hawk is Dying, based on the novel by Harry Crews, premieres next year at Sundance. Directed by Julian Goldberger, and written by Crews and Goldberger, the film centers on “a Gainesville, Fla., man who tries to alter his life as an auto upholsterer by training a wild, red-tailed hawk.” The cast includes Paul Giamatti, Michael Pitt, and Michelle Williams.

Related: Giamatti talked with Rolling Stone about his role earlier this year; the film was shot in Gainesville.

Prison to library

Although I work less than fifteen minutes away by foot, I’d never visited the NYPL’s Jefferson Market Branch Library until a few weekends ago, when a friend wanted to pick up some books she’d reserved.

It’s a gorgeous building — the spiral staircase especially — but the history of the place is more riveting than the architecture.

Jefferson Market was built in the 1870s as a courthouse. In the early 1900s, women arrested in the great shirtwaist workers’ strike of 1908-1909 — before the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire — were rounded up and taken there to stand trial at night. By the mid-1920s, the courts “were used solely for the trials of women, and in 1929 [an adjacent] market and co-ed prison were torn down and replaced by the Women’s House of Detention, probably the only Art Deco prison in the world.” Continue reading…

Fate of unpublished Nabokov manuscript uncertain

Ron Rosenbaum reports on a “dire new twist in the fate of The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov’s last unpublished manuscript,” which “exists now in a safe-deposit box whose location is known to only two people.”

“If what I’ve just learned is true,” he says, “it’s likely never to see the light of day — indeed, it may well be destroyed.” (Thanks, John.)

Update: Dmitry Nabokov, the writer’s son, says he hasn’t decided what to do with the manuscript, but tells Kommersant that he never said he planned to destroy it. (Via Bookslut. See what you miss when you’re offline for six days?)

Bring the flashlight

The unparalleled Pasha Malla has had some bad sex.

Have you seen the movie version of High Fidelity? Remember that part when the girl’s dad or someone dies and all she wants to do is screw? Picture that, except think Linda Blair in The Exorcist meets the Tasmanian Devil meets Traci Lords after six years of solitary confinement. I know this sounds flippant and insensitive, but, honestly, at this stage Lisa was showing no signs of grief. My attempt at consolation — gentle murmuring with a hand rubbing circles on her back — was soundly rejected. That same hand was grabbed and stuffed between her legs, and my murmurs were stifled with a sock and duct tape.

(Thanks to EE for the link.)

Why I never write about the South: a guest dispatch from Robb Forman Dew

Robb Forman Dew is known for writing novels set in the Midwest. Her latest, the subtle and well-regarded The Truth of the Matter (excerpted in the weekend’s New York Times Book Review), takes place in Washburn, Ohio.

I met Dew this fall and was surprised to hear what I thought was a trace of Louisiana or western Mississippi in her accent. I asked her about it, and, sure enough, Dew grew up in Baton Rouge and spent girlhood summers in Natchez, Mississippi. Her godfather, Robert Penn Warren, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1946 for All the King’s Men, a fictionalized account of the life of populist Louisiana governor Huey Long. But Dew herself doesn’t write about the South.

In the guest dispatch below, she talks about growing up in a family where books and writing were both prized and disdained, and she explains why she’s opted not to set her characters amid the kudzu.

Certainly I felt unappreciated and suffered my share of personal angst growing up within my immediate family. I had no idea, however, that I was universally misunderstood until I moved from Louisiana to Columbia, Missouri, where people actually asked me if in the South we had worn shoes when we went to school. At a dinner party my host turned to me suddenly and asked if it was true that the normal Southern diet was made up mostly of pork fat and greens. I was just married and only twenty-one years old, and so dumbfounded that I didn’t even realize the man meant to be rude.

“Well… I don’t know,” I said. “Sometimes we had bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches… My grandmother in Natchez usually uses a piece of salt pork when she’s cooking green beans…”

It was my paternal Natchez connection that had provoked his question; my maternal grandfather was, at the time, a fairly well known poet, John Crowe Ransom, and it was common knowledge that he was almost always among literate people. By the time I was born, in 1946, he had moved from his native Tennessee to Gambier, Ohio, and was editing The Kenyon Review.

But Natchez… Well, who knew what went on there? Continue reading…

The Smart Set: Lauren Cerand’s weekly events

The Smart Set is a weekly feature, compiled and written by Lauren Cerand, that appears Mondays and highlights the best of the week to come. Special favor is given to New York’s independent booksellers and venues, and low-cost and free events. Please submit details to by the Thursday prior to publication, with the date of the event in the subject line.

MONDAY: 11.28: Hello Kitty meets Harajuku as visiting scholar Yomota Inuhiko discusses “The Aesthetics of Kawaii” at Columbia University. 4:00pm, free. And Philip Gourevitch discusses non-fiction with Zia Jaffrey at the New School. 6:30pm, $5. Also, The Reader’s Room at Mo Pitkin’s presents John Hodgman, who will demonstrate the areas of expertise with musical accompaniment by Jonathan Coulton. 7:00pm, no cover.

TUESDAY, 11.29: Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, president of the Dorothy Parker Society of New York, stops by the Corner Bookstore, easily the model for the perfect little bookshop, to fete A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York. 6:30pm, free. Also, journalist and documentary filmmaker Heather Rodgers discusses Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage at Labyrinth Books. 7:00pm, free.

WEDNESDAY, 11.30: Jami Attenberg, herself a forthcoming debut author, launches the Class of 2006 reading series, offering a sneak peek of next year’s fresh voices. Future first-timers Deborah Schoeneman, David Goodwillie and Shari Goldhagen read from their work on Wednesday evening at Boxcar Lounge. Highly recommended. 8:00pm, no cover. In Brooklyn, Judy Budnitz, of Nice Big American Baby fame, and fellow short story writer, Vestal McIntyre, author of You Are Not the One, read from their work as part of a series at the Outrageous Look gallery. Also highly recommended. 8:00pm, free. And, Bedside Companions 2006, a pin-up calendar with a twist created to benefit charitable organizations supporting those living with HIV/AIDS, officially launches with The Pin-Up Release Party at Posh. 6:30-9:30pm, no cover.

THURSDAY, 12.1: December 1 is World Aids Day, a day of remembrance and a call to action. UNAIDS presents “World AIDS Day Commemoration: An Evening of Music and Reflection” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, located at 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. 7:30pm, free. Downtown, there is an Interfaith Memorial Service at St. John’s in the Village Episcopal Church, 224 Waverly Place at West 11th Street. 6:15pm, free. Also of interest, Nadine Gordimer’s Telling Tales.

FRIDAY, 12.2: MoMA is free from 4:00-8:00pm, which is as good a reason as any to check out Beyond the Visible: The Art of Odilon Redon: “Delving into the imagination, Redon created a universe of hybrid creatures, offered his own interpretations of literary, biblical, and mythological subjects, and presented the environment in a singular way: we see grinning disembodied teeth, smiling spiders, winged chariots, unfamiliar plant life.”

SATURDAY, 12.3: The Land Grant College Review – still ticking and getting better all the time – celebrates its stunning new output with the “Issue No. Three Release Party”, at “the Lakeside Lounge — home to the city’s best jukebox and an infamous photo booth — with cans of Milwaukee’s Best and the lively music of The Two Man Gentlemen Band. Admission is free.” Highly recommended. 9:00pm.

SUNDAY, 12.4: Number one most fun Warhol superstar Brigid Berlin is the subject of an intriguing show of art and memorabilia at the gallery of rare book dealer Glenn Horowitz. And, news of my favorite conceptual art world prankster, via my favorite anonymous correspondent at Living with Legends: “Yves Klein (creator of the Chelsea Hotel Manifesto in 1961) is currently the focus of two exhibits. A museum-quality painting survey at the L & M Arts Gallery ( “Yves Klein: A Career Survey;” 45 East 78th Street, to December 10) and seven late fire paintings made of torched cardboard at Michael Werner (4 East 77th Street, to December 23).”

Another blissfully parent-free holiday

Between today’s site outage (thanks to the misleadingly named Dreamhost) and the rush to leave town, the blogging day was shot.

I’m up at my sister’s for Thanksgiving. We’ll observe it in the usual way, and since we follow the Antigeist’s rules on the proper time to start boozing — “one may always choose to begin at noon, or when the sun has safely passed the yardarm, or anytime you can state with assuredness that it is in fact nighttime somewhere” — I doubt I’ll be in any shape to post again until Monday.

Have a wonderful holiday, if at all possible. But if you can’t manage it, for God’s sake, don’t blame yourself.

Remainders: then and now edition

  • Gore Vidal barely recalls writing a re-discovered story based on a Tennessee Williams anecdote. (The above photo of the two men was taken in Rome in 1948. Vidal is on the right.)
  • Next year Stanford will serialize a “collection of Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of Sherlock Holmes, just as they were originally printed and illustrated in The Strand Magazine.” For paper facsimiles of the original magazine releases, sign up on the website; for pdf versions, check in on Fridays. (Via Telescreen.)

Strategies for improving a lousy Scrabble game

Maybe if I played Scrabble Graham Greene’s way, I wouldn’t hate it so much.

The playwright Michael Meyer travelled around the world with Greene in the 1950s. Greene had promised opium-smoking and other tropical decadences, so Meyer was disappointed to find that Greene had packed a portable Scrabble board. The nightly Scrabble games almost ruined their friendship.

The problem, according to Meyer, was that Greene’s spelling was “deeply dubious”, and the pair did not have a dictionary. During a stay in Tahiti, Greene produced the words “zeb”, which he claimed was an Elizabethan word for “cock”, and “quoign” which he insisted was Shakespearean, quoting: “Yon castle’s quoign that Duncan’s spirit haunts.”

Or maybe, since I like to work things out in hiding, I should just practice playing solo, online.

Selections from James Schuyler’s letters

While reviewing a new anthology of the poet James Schuyler’s letters, August Kleinzahler observes that the “artist who also writes criticism, whether about his own art or someone else’s, will, inevitably, tell you what he himself is up to, or at least aspires to.”

Praising a work by Fairfield Porter, Schuyler writes: ‘The most forceful quality of this particular painting is the artist’s willingness to be clumsy.’ Of all the letters here, those to Porter, the first dated Bastille Day 1954 and the last 9 August 1972, are the clumsiest and most interesting.

“Depending on your appetite for camp, reading the Schuyler letters from beginning to end may make you feel as though you’ve been living on apple crumble for a week,” Kleinzahler says. “Apple crumble of a very high order, but apple crumble nevertheless.”

From a letter Schuyler wrote to the poet Frank O’Hara and the painter John Button (the “object of Schuyler’s affection at the time”) in the summer of 1956:

Dear ‘John’ and ‘Frank’,

(Or should I call you by your camp names in a letter.) I loved your antiphonal psalm — it was like getting a jeweller’s box with a sparrow in it that had been fucked to death by John Simon…

Continue reading…

Compassionate racism

In Sorry, Not Buying, the ever-astute ZZ Packer (Drinking Coffee Elsewhere) perceives the forked tongue with which modern-day Republicans utter the “soothing code words of ‘compassionate conservatism’ that have replaced the now-unfashionable racist rhetoric of decades past.”

Not long ago, William Bennett — former education secretary, self-styled moralist, and gambler — philosophized, “If you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.” A few beats later Bennett reminded himself and his radio audience that such a crime-fighting method might be “morally reprehensible.” For me and other blacks, hearing Bennett uphold his racist “blacks = crime” premise was unbearable, and hearing him discuss black genocide in the language of tactical options was otherworldly — a little like interviewing a slew of baby-sitters and having one announce, unbidden, that he would never think of throwing your infant around like a football. Thanks for the reassurance, but I’ll pass.

His mistake was saying what too many Republicans still believe, Bill Clinton said of Trent Lott’s remarks praising segregationist Strom Thurmond and his 1948 run for the presidency. But the same applies to Bennett. As Clinton’s aperçu suggests, these Freudian slips are failures to work according to script…. Bennett’s gaffe was the latest in a long parade of such comments by Republicans and conservatives since the GOP made its public gambit for racial inclusiveness under George W. Bush.

If you doubt Packer’s contentions for a moment, you’re wrong to, and I wish I could travel back in time to the 70′s or 80′s and introduce you to my father as he was then, when the flag of his sociopathy flew high.

He went a step further than most of his fellow racists, bemoaning not only integration, busing, and affirmative action, but even the end of slavery.

In our last brawls — before I stopped speaking to him — on these issues, his arguments had begun to shift from the blatantly white supremacist ones of my youth to the slippery, faux-equitable language peddled by think tanks like Linda Chavez’s so-called Center for Equal Opportunity. (“As the only think tank devoted exclusively to the promotion of colorblind equal opportunity and racial harmony, the Center for Equal Opportunity is uniquely positioned to counter the divisive impact of race conscious public policies,” the website says.)

The Smart Set: Lauren Cerand’s Occasional Hiatus

The Smart Set is a weekly feature, compiled and written by Lauren Cerand, that appears Mondays and highlights the best of the week to come. Special favor is given to New York’s independent booksellers and venues, and low-cost and free events. If you’d like your event considered for inclusion, please submit details to by the Thursday prior to publication with the date of the event in the subject line.

The Smart Set is taking a holiday break this week. If you’re looking for literary entertainment tonight, I recommend The Reader’s Room at Mo Pitkin’s, featuring Gary Lutz and Nelly Reifler (7:00pm, free) or SMUT at Galapagos, featuring Marga Gomez, Carolyn Castiglia, Marcy Dermansky (full disclosure: one of my PR clients) and Adira Amram (8:00pm, free). Followed by burlesque at 10.

Happy Thanksgiving!