The Middle Distance
May 04, 2012
As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964–1980 By Susan Sontag Edited by David Rieff (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 523 pp., $30) Susan Sontag’s prose is designed to strike readers as measured, simultaneously wise and matter-of-fact. She favors relatively short words and she is spare with her adjectives. The writing, whether in the essays or the novels, has a workmanlike neutrality, as if Sontag were not presenting her own thoughts so much as offering a guided tour of the higher regions of human experience.
Boris Johnson and Other Strange Big City Mayors
May 03, 2012
London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, known simply as Boris to his ardent fans in Britain, seems all but certain to reclaim his post in the mayoral election scheduled for Thursday. But the enthusiasm Johnson inspires is only partly related to the policies he’s pursued in office; it has as much to do with his shaggy hair, quirky personality, quick wit, and idiosyncratic habits. Londoners, however, aren’t the only ones who have a quirky mayor to call their own.
Does It Really Matter Who Bloomberg Endorses?
May 02, 2012
The Times has a piece today on the intense behind-the-scenes competition to seduce the Upper East Side’s favorite mayor—replete with secret meetings, intimate golf outings, and vice-presidential drop-bys. As the piece puts it: “Two presidential candidates who agree on very little, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, have reached a rare consensus: they are both determined to score the endorsement of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York.” The question is, er, why?
Over the past several months, there has been a biting back and forth over the New York Public Library’s planned renovation (the so-called Central Library Plan or CLP), which would close two midtown circulating libraries, open a circulating library within the main research library on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, and move several million books off-site to make way for new facilities. It might be more accurate to say that there’s been a lot of pushing back and not much pressing forth. The plan has been criticized in The Nation, The Village Voice, The New York Times, and elsewhere.
A Stirring Revival of Vaudeville Theater
April 23, 2012
The history of popular entertainment is not the same thing as the history of recording. While the wonders of our digital devices seduce us into thinking we have instant access to everything, most performances in the first form of mass entertainment in America—Vaudeville—are lost to history. Astronomers tell us that we’re still receiving light from the Big Bang, but the sights and sounds of the first pop acts, Vaudeville stars, are all but gone.
April 20, 2012
In September 2009, I was in Pittsburgh covering the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial convention when word arrived that Max Baucus, then-chairman of the Senate finance committee, had released his version of the Democrats’ universal health care legislation. It included a hefty tax on the high-priced health care plans enjoyed by many union members and fell far short of the employer mandate that unions were demanding.
Defending The Secret Service
April 17, 2012
The more you look at this Secret Service scandal, the less there seems to be. Eleven Secret Service agents and about as many military officials are suspected of hiring prostitutes during their stay in Cartagena, Colombia, in advance of the April 14-15 Summit of the Americas, which President Obama attended. I’m not saying this isn't embarrassing. I’m not saying the wives of these government employees don’t have grounds to be very, very angry with them. I’m not even necessarily saying the Secret Service agents in question shouldn’t be fired.
This is a review of Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet, and the calendar pretext is that the movie will play at the San Francisco Film Festival on April 24 and 27. Not all of you will be able to get to the Bay Area, but, since last August, The Loneliest Planet has already played at the festivals of Locarno, Toronto, New York, London and the AFI. Still, it has not “opened” yet. That is promised for this August, albeit on a limited basis. What does limited mean? Well, Loktev and the rest of us might bear in mind what happened with her previous film, her first, Day Night Day Night.
How Hilton Kramer Got Lost in the Culture Wars
April 11, 2012
Hilton Kramer, who died on March 27 at the age of 84, was a much more complicated man than is sometimes acknowledged. He was both a neoconservative cultural warrior who liked nothing better than plunging into a noisy, nasty battle and an exacting aesthete for whom life would have been impossible without the sustenance of art and literature. I certainly saw both sides of Hilton during the decade that I wrote for The New Criterion, beginning in the mid-1980s.
Dubya's Tax-Cut Pity Party
April 10, 2012
"I wish they weren't called the 'Bush tax cuts.' If they were called someone else's tax cuts, they'd be less likely to be raised." --Unloved former President George W. Bush in remarks this morning at the New York Historical Society.