Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Department of Welcome News From Last Weekend

"Special Registration for Arab Immigrants Will Reportedly Stop"

The Department of Homeland Security has decided to stop its program requiring thousands of Arab and Muslim men to register with immigration officials. Under the program, some 85,000 men from 24 mostly Muslim countries were interviewed, photographed, and fingerprinted by federal agents between November 2002 and May 2003; just 11 were found to have links to terrorism.

Said Lucas Guttentag, head of the Immigrants' Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union: "The government's plan to terminate special registration for Arab and Muslim immigrants is an implicit acknowledgement that this was a failed, discriminatory program."

Then again, on the other hand: "ACLU Says Arabs and Muslims Still At Risk for Unjustified Targeting, Deportation"

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Department of Better Late Than Never (or is that Too Little, Too Late?)

Richard Perle has admitted that the United States' invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law.
Department of Things Look Different Looking Backward

The CounterRevolutionary. Point taken. On the other hand, I think it is absolutely necessary to keep in mind that George W. Bush is no Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After all, there are domestic issues to consider as well.

For one thing, World War II pulled the United States *out* of the economic doldrums, whereas virtually every economist with any degree of independence these days agrees that the policies of the Bush adminstration are pushing the country into extremely dangerous territory, economically speaking.

I might also add that Laura Bush is no Eleanor Roosevelt. FDR's wife was instrumental in the writing and adopting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations, back when that institution was still in its diapers.

Of course events may yet prove me wrong, but at this point, it is hard for me to imagine that Dubya's legacy will include anything so positive.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Saturday Night: Time to Rock Department

This time out, it's the Fiery Furnaces, backed by, among others, my favorite Enid's bartender, Dustin, and one of my favorite Enid's regulars, Toshi, who perform together as Gene Dreamy (Toshi) and Gary Sincere (Dustin). The show is at Mercury Lounge.
You Won't Get Fooled Again Department

Coming up Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2003 — for real! no joke! — the latest installment of the Little Gray Book Lectures, hosted by John Hodgman.

The program for Lecture 24 is as follows (all words quoted directly from Hodgman's e-mail; boldface, hyperlinks, and minor copy editing added by StickFinger):

It is, as they say, that season: time once again for my holiday letter to you, dear friends and members of the world press:

It has been another fun and prosperous year for the members of the Little Gray Book household.

We are very proud of Little Jonathan Coulton who “laid down some tracks” for his first musical compact disk, which includes such seasonal favorites as “Christmas Is Interesting” and “First of May,” and is appropriately stocking-sized and ready for stuffing.

In the Xmas miracle department, Wee Christine Hill, the poor little match girl whom we station at the front door to beg for alms, recently cast aside her crutch and cockney accent to reveal her secret life as a successful artist, announcing the first acquisition of her work by the MOMA, a museum in Queens.

Unfortunately, our holiday cards will be a bit late this year. Potts and Wagner and Graham and McCabe and all the Elves of the Booklyn Artists Alliance are still figuring out how to make cardstock entirely out of frankincense and myrrh (though they say they are right on schedule for the next “Little Gray Book,” so long as Hodgman stays out of the workshop).

Meanwhile, the cranberries have been threaded, the latkes fried according to the old Rapoport family recipe, and the Galapagos reflecting pool filled with eggnog for:


Which shall take place at 8 p.m. on December 3, a Wednesday, at Galapagos in Williamsburg (see below for concise details),

and is also known as


Wherein, like the three kings of old, we shall bring to Galapagos unusual objects acquired in other places, tell stories about them, and sell them to the highest bidder, with all auction proceeds going to City Harvest,

Including lectures from

JON LANGFORD, the renaissance Welshman of Chicago;

ADAM RAPOPORT, searing the traditional holiday foie gras;

ALEXANDRA RINGE, distributing thin mints and sherry;

ADAM SACHS, the circumnavigator;

And BRETT MARTIN, defending his crown as King Or Queen of Wintertime, an honorary title awarded yearly to the person whose unusual object commands the highest price at auction.

Honestly, we are not sure of Brett’s chances, given that his unusual object (some sort of Canadian newspaper) shall be pitted in auction against such lovely items as

-An Italian football jersey from Italy
-Russian circus stamps
-A mysterious typewriter
-The return of the sad headhunter statue



A generous gift from the far off land of Lawrenceburg, KY, from Wild Turkey Bourbon (Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller)

(If you have any questions about the Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey, sample glasses will be available throughout the night at a special price of four dollars, with or without frozen water, and topped in the preferred manner by a few drops of Peychaud’s bitters, which technically makes it “a Gibson.”)

Which we hope is enough to entice you to join us at:


I am John Hodgman and may be reached at if you have any questions.

Otherwise, merry seasons to all and to all:

That is all.


The Little Gray Book Lectures are a series of readings, songs, discussions, contests, and occasional overhead slide projections presented on a single theme (No. 8: How to Throw a Curveball, No. 9: Mystery Cults of North America, No. 16: How to Pour the Perfect Werthmann, etc.).

They occur, more or less, on the first Wednesday of every month and are hosted by John Hodgman, with the generous aid of many others.

The Lectures have included one Sing-Along, two Spelling Bees, one man in a giant seagull costume, an interview with a member of the famous secret society Skull and Bones, and gracious appearances from exciting talents, both emerging and established, including:

+ novelists Elizabeth Gilbert (THE LAST AMERICAN MAN, Viking) and Darin Strauss (CHANG AND ENG, THE REAL MCCOY, Dutton),

+ on the recorder: Sarah Vowell,

+ unscripted storyteller Mike Daisey (21 Dog Years: Doing Time at, off-Broadway and Free Press),

+ tiki-collecting memoirist Amy Fusselman (THE PHARMACIST’S MATE, McSweeney’s),

+ members of the cast of PEOPLE ARE WRONG!, a musical about cults and gardening,

+ columnist and reformed D&D player Joel Stein,

+ master mixologist Dale DeGroff and his amazing Werthmanns,

+ the band Tablature, featuring Gabe Soria and Steve Burns, who once hosted a children’s television program,

+ essayist and inadvertent petty thief Chuck Klosterman (SEX, DRUGS, AND COCOA PUFFS, Scribner),

+ renowned Mekon, Welshman, and member of 1000 rock bands MR. JON LANGFORD,

+ cartoonists Dorothy Gambrell ( and David Rees, the Unstoppable (GET YOUR WAR ON,

Original music is provided near-monthly by Jonathan Coulton, whose song "First of May" is an instant classic and sadly may only be sung one day a year (

As well, the LA Times called The Little Gray Book Lectures "increasingly conspicuous,” while Time Out New York calls them “deceptively gentle.” These press clippings are available for your perusal.

Portions of Lecture No. 14 were broadcast on the radio program “This American Life.” Frankly, we want more radio broadcasts, and are investigating short wave transmission for this purpose.

Like the “Little Blue Book” instructional pamphlets of the 20th century that inspired them, the Lectures are theme-specific, brief, accessible, enlightening, unintentionally amusing, disposable to some and collectible to others.

Also: drinks are available from a full bar.

To those who ask, “will there ever be actual, physical Little Gray Books?” we may now say: yes.

For more information on “Little Blue Books,” go here:

For some information on the Little Gray Book Lectures, go here:

That is all.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Department of Pluggin' the Dutch

Edgar de Bruin, the Dutch translator of Jáchym Topol — and several other Czech authors — has a Web site titled Pluh (Czech for "plow"), on which he plugs Czech lit to the inhabitants of the Netherlands. Impressively, it's available in three different languages: Dutch, Czech, and English.

I met Edgar on my last trip to Prague, in summer of 2002. He is a great guy: funny, smart, and entirely devoted to Czech literature. At the moment, he is doing his best to convince the prestigious British publishing house Faber and Faber to publish Topol's last novel — Nocní práce (2001) — in English, which would mean, I hope, a job for me. Fans of Topol, keep your fingers crossed.

P.S. This damn font doesn't allow me to use all the Czech characters! Ergo the lack of hácek on the c in Nocní.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Department of Once Embedded, Now Harshly Vetted

"30 Media Outlets Protest Treatment in Iraq"

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Department of Religion in the Name of Profit

Those crafty Swedes at IKEA have figured out a way to market their wares, inshallah, in the name of Islam (at least in Canada): "Nod to Ramadan a trend in retailing."

Looks, reads, and feels just like "normal" IKEA copy, right?

Monday, November 17, 2003

Department of Stories Deserving of More Looking Into

By professional journalists, that is: "U.S. troops arrest Iraqi for criticising them."
More on Czech Lit, This Time Courtesy of Cerny

I haven't read it yet, so I can't give an opinion, but the current issue of World Literature Today has an essay on Czech literature by Chris Harwood (who teaches here in NYC, at Columbia) that uses a key phrase from City Sister Silver in its title: "Writing in the Time Since Time Exploded: The Czech Novel, 1990–2002."
I added more links again yesterday. So now I can use my blog as my own personal miniportal. Readers stand to benefit too, though, I hope.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Swank Department

The full-service, "swank" version of the Bon Mots' Web site is now up and running. You can even listen to the whole album, song by song.

Plus lots of photos of the band members at work and at play (well, less at play than on a fashion shoot; but whatever), concert information, reviews of le main drag, and of course links (here cleverly dubbed "conduits"), including one to yours truly, for which I am truly grateful.

This is really one of the finest band sites I have ever seen. Give it a look-see even if you don't give a hoot about music.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Department of News That May Be Old but Is Just as Scary All the Same

Half the 18- to 24-year-olds in this country can't find even *New York* on a map.
Department of Strange, Unfathomable Connections

Reading through Scotty Mac's blog, I came across his column on blogs in Prague, "Prague Webwatch." That led me to KidRadical, which led me to The Daily Czech, which led me to G. A. Cerny, whose blog I have read before.

But on reaching Cerny, I discovered a link to a blog by a woman called Book Slut(!), who appears on the cover of the current issue of the Chicago Reader with a copy of City Sister Silver on her bookshelf in the background!

If anyone in Chicago is reading this – that means YOU, Eric! — I want a copy of that issue. In fact, make it two; I can send one to Jáchym. He'll get a kick out of it.

P.S. Now that I have taken a closer look, I realize that Book Slut is not a woman, but a group of mixed gender. Nevertheless, I have chosen to stet the posting above for the sake of comedic effect.
I just added a whole mess of links on Czech lit and Jáchym Topol. Check 'em out below, at left.
Department of Constructive Criticism

Doug Henwood, longtime editor of the Left Business Observer, wrote a piece for the Nation last month that raises many of the issues the Left, such as it is, has ducked in its steadfast opposition to progress in world-trade talks. If you are a leftist (or a progressive, or whatever term you prefer) and don't want to be ignorant about the issues involved in free trade, it's a must-read.
Department of 21st-Century Dilemmas

"Mom Finds Out About Blog" and "What to do if your mom discovers your blog"

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Department of Freaks of Not Nature but Human Manipulation

English Angora rabbits, courtesy of the Votrubicon, a.k.a. Emily Votruba.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Department of Mental Lapses

My entry below, on Upcoming Events, I realized late last night, includes a plug for an event that took place last week. The Little Gray Book Lectures take place the first Wednesday of every month, and so -- too late! -- you missed it. My apologies.

I missed it too, of course. I was sick as a dog last Wednesday, unable to stand on my feet, never mind walking all the way to Galapagos to hear about Brookline. I do intend to purchase a copy of Jonathan Coulton's CD, though. He is a lyrical genius.

Happy Veterans Day.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Department of Walking Down Memory Lane

Thanks to Matt Welch for posting a link to the first American feature piece on Prognosis, written in April '92 by Henry Copeland for Details: "Wild, Wild East."

Matt's posting, performed in recognition of the anniversary of the conception of the paper, also includes a link to a reminiscence by the one and only John Allison, from a previous anniversary posting, two years back.

Those were the days, back in Pray-hey-hey.

Upcoming Events Department

The early part of the week is bad for me, blogging-wise, as I teach Tuesday nights and have a Wednesday deadline on a newsletter, but I can at least take the time to alert my four faithful readers to three events this week I deem worthy of their attention.


This month's edition of the Little Gray Book Lectures, a series founded by raconteur extraordinaire John Hodgman (known to me originally in his role as former literary agent and McSweeney's contributor; for examples of his work, do a Find for "hodgman" on this page).

This month's lecture, the 23rd so far, takes place Wednesday night and is titled "BROOKLINE—The Town That Has Everything (And At The Same Time Has Nothing)."

The e-mail promoting Lecture 23 promises "discourse on the town formerly known as Muddy River, from your host, the Brookline native John Hodgman, and his panel of notable experts, including:

"PATRICK BORELLI, a comedian once based in the city of Boston, on how he averted a crisis at the Coolidge Corner Moviehouse, a crisis involving MONSTERS;

"ADAM MAZMANIAN, the famed public speaker, on “The War for Hall’s Pond,” one of two natural ponds that exist in Brookline. Did you know?: it is home to black-crowned NIGHT HERONS;

"DANZY SENNA, the author of CAUCASIA, speaking of the mysterious stranger who one day came to town with an answer to the scourge of pool-halls: a secret African-American fraternity of his OWN DESIGN; and

"SARAH VOWELL, the author of THE PARTLY CLOUDY PATRIOT, on Brookliner-President John F. Kennedy and the strange coincidences tying him to Abraham Lincoln, HIS BEST FRIEND FROM ANOTHER TOWN.

"Plus, JONATHAN COULTON--who married a Brookline woman and is still learning our strange customs involving giant wicker men, potions that grant superhuman strength, and stores that sell only pudding--will sing briefly on THESE SUBJECTS. Then after the program, he will appear with a FULL ROCK BAND to sing about SEVERAL OTHER SUBJECTS in celebration of the release of his first compact DISK, entitled SMOKING MONKEY. We are very excited about this."

Hodgman also pledges a complimentary slice of pizza for all attendees at the conclusion of the event.

Note, too, that the back room has reopened at Galapagos, which makes for a much more comfortable and enjoyable entertainment experience.


Typographer Peter Bain, who is my cousin and whose Web site you can visit here or from the link at the left of this page, is delivering a lecture Thursday evening at the prestigious and prodigiously well-appointed Grolier Club titled "Film Type."

Peter describes the event as follows: "A free slide lecture . . . on the days of photo-typesetting, when firms such as Photo-Lettering and ITC helped release typography from the constraints of metal. The distinctive display styles of that era will be explored and critiqued from today's perspective."

I never miss a chance to enter the prestigious and prodigiously well-appointed Grolier Club, and besides, Peter's my cousin, so of course I'll be there.

Note, too, that Mr. Bain has just released his first typeface for purchase, a font called Gridiot.


Also Thursday night—unfortunately, since I cannot be in two places at once—is the last in the series of readings promoting Boris Fishman's eminently readable, and affordable, and, yes, even ground-breaking, anthology of stories from Eastern Europe, Wild East: Stories from the Last Frontier.

Writes Boris: "A motley group of readers -- Arthur Phillips, Paul Greenberg, John Beckman, and Josip Novakovich -- will read from four very different stories. Afterward, a no-consequences romp through the neighborhood in the finest spirit of the book. It's finally cold enough to feel like Russia, though we will have our trouble mistaking the Upper West Side for Vladivostok."

The reading will be at Makor, and admission is $8.

I attended an earlier reading at Galapagos, at which I purchased a copy of the book, and though I can't take the time to write about it here in full, I can at least say that I finished the book yesterday, and I unreservedly give it the Slavotrash Seal of Approval. It's much better than the vast majority of literary anthologies I've encountered, and don't forget: We get so few books in English about Eastern Europe for a general audience that any time one manages to make it to publication, it is a momentous event.

Hats off to Boris!

Saturday, November 08, 2003

What Else Are Friends For? Part II

As long as I'm on the topic of oeuvres issued under the name Chial, let me point out the paintings of the talented Katherine Drake Chial, who, coincidentally, is married to my friend Eric.

Here is one of her paintings from 2001, titled Ice Mirror:

Here are a few words and an image from her latest show, which just closed recently at the Contemporary Art Workshop in Chicago.

Truly a talented household.
What Else Are Friends For? Department

My friend Eric Chial, whom I have known since we were both tykes of 12 attending Hannah Middle School in East Lansing, Michigan, has been urging me to urge upon my friends and followers the latest product of his creative drive, a CD of music titled Le Main Drag by a band called the Bon Mots. And I do so wholeheartedly.

Already, WXRT in Chicago has called Le Main Drag its "new favorite record by a Chicago band."

Eric's voice, on certain songs, sounds a lot like Elvis Costello's, which is no mean feat — after all, how many singers can you name who sound like Elvis Costello? — while the music, depending on whom you read, sounds like "the Shins, the Pernice Brothers, Teenage Fanclub, the Smiths, and the Lilys," or "the Zombies, the Byrds, and second-generation purveyors of cool [. . .] mid-sixties-informed creepy jangle such as the Bats, My Drug Hell, the Clean, Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Smiths, and the Church," or "the Go-Betweens meets the Lucksmiths, the Zombies meets the Byrds, Rufus Wainwright and Joe Jackson, the Smiths meet Elephant 6, both the Matinee and Parasol rosters smushed together, plus a lovely nostalgic feeling that is as much powerhouse eighties college rock hookfest as it is seasoned sixties pop sensibilities."

The CD is being distributed by Parasol, but you can buy it direct from the band.

Meanwhile, listen to this song, "Glistening" (sung not by Eric, but by the other half of the Bon Mots' songwriting duo, Mike Coy), while you look at this artsy pic of the Bon Mots rockin' live, lifted from the band's Web site, which Eric promises will, in two days' time, be "extremely swank" ("Swank = They can listen to the entire record, see pictures of the band live, working like ants during the week, and lunching al fresco on the weekends, as is our wont, and generally living the good life in the great city of Chicago. Also, our keyboardist plays with Nash Kato from Urge Overkill, and simply put, we're just very cool cats."):

Friday, November 07, 2003

Department of New Magazines People Who Wish to Be Informed Should Be Informed Of

Paul Wilson, the Canadian translator of such great and important works as Letters to Olga, by Václav Havel, and I Served the King of England, by Bohumil Hrabal, as well as Havel's seminal essay on East European dissidence, "The Power of the Powerless," has also been deeply involved in Canadian journalism for many years, and now he's part of what looks to be a great new project, a monthly called The Walrus.

I met Paul week before last, when he was in town for the 40th anniversary of the New York Review of Books, and he gave me a copy of the first issue. Looks great, design-wise, sort of a cross between Harper's (slim, few ads) and the New Yorker (lots of clever, small pen-and-ink drawings), and it promises to be a must-read for "Canadian opinion-makers," and you know that description fits me to a T, so I'm all over it, gonna be a charter subscriber!

You should be, too. Paul tells me the magazine's got backing guaranteed for five years, so it isn't going away anytime soon. (Listen to him talk about it on CBC Radio here or here.)

Plus, they've got a great graphic for their inaugural ad campaign:

Tusk, tusk.

Department of Kickin' Out the Jams

Goin' to see the Dirtbombs tomorrow night at Bowery Ballroom.

This is the only album by them I know so far:

Can't wait!

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Toot, toot! Comin' Back for Seconds!

"Word Perfect: Five literary translators on the art of turning written Czech into readable English"
-- from the Prague Post, October 9, 2003
Department of Blowing My Own Horn

Iron and Velvet: a Decade of New Czech Writing

"Almost fifteen years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the lifting of the Iron Curtain. During this time, the Czech Republic, newly divorced from its long-time partner, Slovakia, has experienced a period of transition and reorientation, and while the Velvet Revolution brought desired freedom of expression, it also resulted in a time of re-evaluation and turbulence. Transcript ( invites readers to discover its sixth edition, devoted to Czech literature of the 1990s. Writers featured include Jáchym Topol, Milos Urban, Patrik Ourednik, Petr Kabes, Petr Borkovec, Katerina Rudcenkova and Kveta Legatova."

For the English-language version, go here.

My contributions to this issue consist of a translation of a short story and comments on the publishing of Czech lit in the United States.

By-product Department

Searching for a page or site to link to at the end of my previous posting, I came across this interesting little nugget. Get a gander of the New York Times editorial board:

To read about the people behind the faces, go here.

Funny thing is, I've met two of them! How come I don't wield more influence in the world? I must've taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Department of Sexual Predestination

An article a few weeks ago in the Economist — "Dyed in the womb: A lesbian's sexual identity seems to be established before birth" — reported on a fascinating study done by a researcher at the University of East London, in England, that found that lesbians blink like heterosexual men. As the Economist observes: "That, in turn, suggests that the part of their brain that controls this reflex has been masculinised in the womb."

The basis for the research was as follows: "Anyone who is startled by an unexpected noise tends to blink. If, however, the startling noise is preceded by a quieter sound, this blink is not so vigorous as it would otherwise have been. It is this lack of vigour which differs between the sexes. Men blink less vigorously than women when primed in this way."

So Dr. Qazi Rahman and his team sat a bunch of men and women, gay and straight, down in a room, wired up their blinking muscles, and made noise. Lo and behold, they found that, statistically, lesbians blinked more like straight men than straight women.

If you want to read more about why this is so, chemically, you can read the paper here, in the October 2003 issue of Behavioral Neuroscience.

I myself have never bought the argument that being gay was a "lifestyle" choice. But maybe that's because my opinions were "liberalized" in the womb!

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Department of Secret Secrets

The Christian Science Monitor wrote last week about a legal case so secret it practically doesn't exist. But soon it may go before the Supreme Court, and the Bush administration's policy of secrecy on the prosecution of people detained in the wake of 9/11 may, at last, be legally challenged.

Monday, November 03, 2003

And We Actually Pay This Guy to Say This Crap?

"If we have to, we just mow the whole place down, see what happens." — Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.) offering his suggestion for how to deal with increasing attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.
Department of Shattered Myths

"Scientists Find Lemmings Die as Dinners, Not Suicides"

(That link's no good anymore, but you can still read the story here.)
Reason no. 242 Why Not to Use Your Cellphone in the Bathroom

"Edwin Gallart, 41, of the Edenwald section of the Bronx, was aboard car 8371 of the 6:19 p.m. Harlem Line local train out of Grand Central Terminal when his cellphone fell into the toilet, officials said. When he reached into the bowl to retrieve it, his arm became trapped from hand to elbow. [. . .]

"Train operators arranged for rescue crews to meet the train a few stops later at the Fordham station, where firefighters used no less than three sets of power tools, including the jaws of life, to cut through the toilet, which was ripped from the lavatory before being sliced open."
"Always Suspect: Local Arabs and the War on Terror" is a fantastic package by the Detroit News that I came across in the course of my work for the ACLU. It offers a handful of regularly updated feature stories, plus a nifty chronology of events.

The paper summarizes the package as follows: "Metro Detroit's estimated 400,000 Arab-Americans face intense scrutiny and pressure in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Detroit News looks at the impact more than two years into the local war on terror."